So here we are at the end of a really strange year, right? Kinda feels like the Nightmare Future we’ve always been promised in the movies. (Wasn’t Donald Trump actually president in an episode of FUTURAMA or something?) But, as I have been recently reminded—and as I will discuss later—some good things have happened, too. I made my first full length TV movies. My publishing company shifted into a higher gear. A lot of my friends made really cool movies. We got a sequel to UNBREAKABLE. And we got a STAR WARS film—a real canon STAR WARS film—just last week. As the looming presence of THE LAST JEDI came closer and closer, I decided to keep a loose journal of some fun/interesting/terrifying events this month, and it formed the basis of this blog, which will be my final posting for the year. It’s a sort of sequel to my STAR WARS CHRISTMAS BLOG of two years ago, which you may want to review HERE for context, if you’re feeling especially completest and have a LOT of time to kill today. It’s also one of the longest, most meandering things I’ve ever written at The Express. I promise if you can get to the end, there will be a point. You may even be happy you went there with me. Because, much to my surprise, I managed to confront some profound and even illuminating things. This is my Christmas present to everyone I love, and everyone I have never met.
Yeah, we went pretty dark this year. But there is silver in darkness. And maybe that was the point all along.
The point of this thing called life.
Let me explain…
Thursday Dec, 7, 10:40: PM
A little over 24 hours to go before my first Lifetime movie premieres on LMN—and it fucking snows tonight. In Texas. For those of you who don’t know, it NEVER snows in Texas, much less on the second day it starts to get even a little bit cold. I mean, it was goddamn 90 degrees the other day. And now, as Doctor Thomason once said… ZANG.
I walk out of my house at a little after dark and I can taste the living ozone in the neighborhood, that indefinable crackle that tells you water is freezing in mid-air and the world has become one big ice box. Your breath floats away in vapors. The world seems still and peaceful. The ground and all the cars are covered in a thin sheen of white. I make snowballs all the way to Asti, the Italian bistro I often dine at, which is about a mile away. This is the same place I have gone to for over ten years, and the first place I managed to struggle to on my own two feet after I was crippled in a car accident a few years back. The people there are happy and the food is great. I remember when I hobbled in here on my walker that muggy, hot summer day, and they told me my money was no good. I ordered two deserts. I was grateful then. I walk home tonight with my leftovers in the freezing cold and I am grateful now. Grateful as all fucking hell I don’t have to use the cane anymore. I actually pass for normal these days. Though the pain still lives in my leg and my foot is like a cement block and it really hurts to make stairs, especially when it’s cold. (Those lifts and ramps in movie theaters? They were made for guys like me.) I cry a little when I get home. I cry because sometimes I think I never really recovered from the crash. I know I never really recovered. But I’m trying, Ringo. I’m trying real hard.
My first all-original comic book goes on sale tomorrow also, too… a crazy little number called BOTTOMFEEDER. Plus I just finished the second draft of my new Lifetime movie, which is all about social network stuff. I pitched a story to my producer about a You Tube killer and ended up writing something similar, but also very different. It’s just how these things go. One must find a way to be Zen about such stuff. Our producer on WEB CAM GIRLS said that earlier this year, when we were shooting the final scene. His name was Ken Sanders. He was kind of a genius. We were originally going to shoot that scene at the lake house from FRIDAY THE 13th PART 4. That would have been so cool. He lost the location at the last minute due to some incredibly dumb shit we had no control over and I had to rewrite the whole damn thing overnight. Funny thing was, it ended up being my favorite scene in the movie, and a really great example of how the collaborative and somewhat accidental nature of filmmaking can make great things happen.
Tomorrow, the second movie we did airs on LMN. That’s YOU KILLED MY MOTHER. Ken didn’t produce that one. It was restructured during editing for a myriad of reasons and is a somewhat different kind of story than what I set out to do. Yet, I feel strangely calm about all this. Julie is throwing a party tomorrow night with some select friends, who will come over and watch the movie with us in her living room. She even bought at new 75 inch 4k TV for the occasion. We’re keeping it intimate. The days of wild keg parties at The Kingdom when I come out with a movie on TV are probably over for good. I think maybe that makes me a little sad, if I am completely honest. Getting old doesn’t have to mean getting dead. But then again, I’ve been sober for eight years. And I sure as hell don’t miss being drunk and/or stoned all the time.
Julie, by the way, is my girlfriend. I’ve been with her for over a year now. She was my girlfriend last Christmas too. Our first STAR WARS movie together was ROGUE ONE. Julie is unlike any woman I have ever been with. She is beautiful and complex. We hardly ever fight about anything. Life is just… really easy with her. We watch stuff like HANNIBAL and STRANGER THINGS together. I will refrain from saying much else, to respect her privacy, and ours—but I know she is reading this, and I just want to say, in front of the whole world, thank you, Julie. You are an amazing person. I love you.
Friday Dec 8.
Julie does the whole let’s-put-on-a-party thing, and it’s awesome. She makes food, she looks fabulous, we watch the movie loud. The gathering is, indeed, intimate. Just twenty people or so. And it kind of salves some of the embarrassment I feel. The thing most civilians are unaware of when it comes to just about any movie is that the writers are not really the authors of these things. The people who actually make the movie are the authors—even if they ask for your opinions a lot, like I often was on this one. YOU KILLED MY MOTHER is filled with moments I like, but it probably isn’t the film I would have made. (I’m actually much happier with WEB CAM GIRLS, at least in the general sense.) But—sigh—this is my day job, after all. And there’s one moment in the film that is better than I could have hoped for. It’s right out of a 1970s exploitation movie, and it happens really early in the film. It’s the opening credits sequence. (SPOILER ALERT OBVIOUSLY!) This is one of the few scenes that appears almost exactly as I wrote it, when ER doctors wheel teen rebel Jo Flay’s mom into the OR and tell her they cannot save Mom’s life because her request for a liver transplant has been denied. She reacts… badly. Grabs a nurse, jams a knife in her neck, and holds her hostage, screaming for them to get back in there and save her mom. Needless to say, this plan doesn’t work out well and she ends up at the mercy of security guards, who advance on her as she screams “I’ll kill all of you!!!” Then—and I swear to god this actually happens—the screen cuts to black and giant letters that spell out YOU KILLED MY MOTHER rush towards us, with bright red blood splattering all over them, as If someone is getting their throat slashed just a few inches out of sight. This is only the second time I’ve seen this, and it’s even more audacious than I remember. (The first time I saw it, I couldn’t stop laughing for an entire minute.) The whole room starts cheering and shaking their heads, like GodDAMN, Stephen. I tell them all I had nothing to do with that. It wasn’t in the screenplay. I DID suggest the big white letters, but it was their idea to splatter them with blood in real time. The title itself was their idea. My screenplay was called STEALING BOBBY. It was called I’M COMING FOR YOU during production. That wasn’t my idea either, but I thought it sounded kinda cool.
As the film goes on, we watch casually, making remarks here and there. It’s fun. Bryan and Noah poke holes in the plot. (Of course they do, the cads.) Noah’s wife Joanna smiles a lot and says she loves it. Julie says she loves our lead actress. Julie’s an actress herself so that’s good. There’s a Live Tweet going on right now at Twitter, where the stars of our film, Ashley and Carlena, are actually interacting with fans as they watch it. I decide not to deal with all that during the film, but later, I open my laptop and check out the comments and reply to a few of them. My buddy Joe—whom the lead character is actually named after—tweets a lot with his lovely wife Lisa, and they are hilarious. When one of the characters intones “Loose ends kill friends,” Lisa quips: “Imma need that on a coffee mug.” It’s one of my favorite lines in the film. (I didn’t even steal it from another movie!) I decide right then and there that I will send Lisa a coffee mug with that on it for Christmas. Joe will get something cool too. He gets re-tweeted a lot by Eric Roberts tonight, which is hella cool. I wanted Eric Roberts to play our gangster in the film. He’s friends with Carlena, our lead actress, who plays Jo.
And speaking of Carlena…
One of the tweets from our leading lady tonight is about how beautiful the artwork in the film is—when our hapless Bobby illustrates the ruthless Jo, with whom he is in love, as a comic book heroine. I am proud to tweet back to her that I personally commissioned that art from my guy at Eibon Press, Pat Carbajal, who did an absolutely astonishing portrait of her. (For those who are interested in such things, that portrait is the image that ends this posting. We’ll get there when we do.)
Pat is one of those rare people who come into your life and make great things happen. I’ve been working with him since 2014, when we started BOTTOMFEEDER. It is one of the strangest and most fitting cosmic ironies that I was able to cross pollinate Eibon and Pat Carbajal with my day job at Lifetime for the very first movie we did. (We even have “EIBON COMICS” in the film as an actual thing!) I think that’s probably a really good sign. I hope it is anyway.
Saturday Dec. 9 and Sunday Dec. 10
Recovery. Saturday, I hang out at Julie’s and we eat all the leftover food from the party. (Tamales, yum!) Sunday, I make her watch BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS for the first time on her giant TV and we play with her (insane) cats. BBTS was a very special film for me as a kid. I was 10 years old when I saw it in 1980. It’s Roger Corman’s two million dollar street-wise version of STAR WARS, filled with odd humor, raunchy sex jokes and amazing half-finished craft by some future Hollywood stars, like Jim Cameron. (That’s how he is credited in the film, not me trying to sound all Hollywood, like I know the guy.) It also has a glorious score by James Horner—his first ever full length movie soundtrack, really. It was the music that made me love him. It was the music that made me sad when he died. If you listen to the first bars of the main theme, they are almost identical in structure to the opening two seconds of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, a film on which he interned under Jerry Goldsmith. Horner was like that. He’d take somebody’s something and make it into something else. He even did it with his own stuff. I kinda like that. The theme for BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS is probably my all time favorite piece of space movie music. It’s emotional and sweeping in a way STAR WARS is not. It fills me with boyish love for old heroes.
I go home later in the evening and watch the READY PLAYER ONE trailer, which just hit the internet. All I can think of—beyond how much I disliked the book and how bitterly envious of Ernie Cline’s success I am, grumble, gripe, bitch, fail—is how incredibly dazzling this preview is, and how it will be instantly forgotten in three days, as the entire world moves on to something else. That’s the reality we live in. Wow today, gone tomorrow. When Prince died, perhaps the greatest musician of his generation—the Jimmi Hendrix of the 21st century—it top-trended on Twitter for less than 24 hours. Then he was gone. And that was that. Something as outright eye-candy dazzling as READY PLAYER ONE would have been seen as the second coming of Christ in the actual 1980s, the decade it so lovingly (shamelessly) lionizes. Is that irony? I have no idea. Really no idea at all. But it sure as hell means something.
Monday Dec. 11
Getting all the ducks in a row. I have to submit the next draft of the social media killer script to my producer on Friday and it has to be right. I go over it for hours and hours, making sure every T is crossed and all that. When you’re in a development machine like this, you’re never sure what the people in charge are gonna say about what you write—it’s really totally unpredictable, even when you can predict it. Does that make sense?
READY PLAYER ONE trends for most of the day on Twitter.
Then everyone forgets about it.
This is the week I will see STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.
Will we also forget that one in 24 hours?
Tuesday Dec. 12
More work on the screenplay, last minute nips and tucks. On weeks like this, when I don’t have the looming specter of a FULL DRAFT on my plate, and it’s all about revising what’s already been done, my days are generally divided between work on Lifetime stuff during the day… and at night I do the Eibon Press thing. In this case, I am getting the third printing of ZOMBIE #1 ready to go, which is still our biggest selling book, technically. Over 2,000 copies in two runs. I say “technically” because the other books have almost sold at least that many copies in single runs, but have fallen short by usually around two or three hundred, sometimes less. We made more first-run copies available to fill that demand… but my ego would really like to see issues 2 and 3 sell completely out. Then again, who the fuck am I kidding? That would mean we’d have to reprint the goddamn things, and who needs that hassle? It’s hard enough just getting our other stuff out. And in case you’re still wondering, yeah, I do EVERYTHING on Eibon Press books. There is no staff helping me. I write and edit and do all the graphic design. I prepare each book for publication, go down checklists with the printers, make sure all the ads are done and hitting our social media on time. Shawn does the rest. Neither of us can ever believe we get any of it done at the end of the day. It’s kind of impossible. Plus, I do the Lifetime thing.
If you had told me when I was in the hospital three years ago that I would be running a publishing company and writing murder movies for retired housewives and their post-ironic-set granddaughters during the day, I probably would have straight-up laughed in your face. At that time, I was writing series books for the TV show ELEMENTARY. It was a “prestige” sort of gig that I was probably very grateful for at the time. I was unceremoniously fired from that job after I was run over by a truck and nearly killed. None of it was my fault. I did everything they asked of me, even when just typing on a laptop was difficult and painful. The callus, mercenary attitude I was shown by those jerks forced me to re-evaluate everything in my artistic life. That’s really how it goes sometimes. People just don’t give a fuck about you. And that’s when it’s time for—as Doctor Thompson once said—an agonizing reappraisal of the whole scene.
So that’s what happened.
Wed. Dec 13
Today, I gotta go to the dentist and have the rest of my teeth cleaned. Second appointment, you see. It’s that bad. I had a root canal recently and the guy was so appalled by the state of my mouth that he insisted I come in after it was all done for a “major overhaul.” The lady who cleans my teeth is not named Claire, but that’s what I will call her to protect the innocent. She tells me while she’s chipping away at twenty years worth of calcified gunk on my not-quite-pearly-whites that she is “excited” by a mouth like mine. Which means, I guess, that my mouth is a challenge. When I heartily agree that it’s a grungy wasteland in there, she is quick to note that it’s not all that bad, compared to the “other ogres” she’s had in her chair. “I’ve had to hold loose teeth into their sockets while cleaning them, because I was afraid those rotten things would come right out.” She says my mouth is nothing like that. But it’s fun for her. Makes her earn the money. So I guess I made someone happy today, right? (I certainly made her a lot of money.) Later on, I eat at what they call an “interior” Mexican food place, where the food is more Brazilian. You know, white garlic rice and fried plantains. Yum. My mouth feels oddly clean. I can feel the spaces between my teeth for the first time in year, especially when little bits of pulled pork get stuck in there. Maybe that means something.
Tomorrow is December 14, which will be my Christmas Eve, because that’s the day the new STAR WARS film premieres. My father will come down from Houston. We will watch the movie. We will exchange presents. We do this every year, since the Force movies have been a Christmas thing. Because of how old I am, there is something very strange and even alien about a STAR WARS film being released at Christmas. Before THE FORCE AWAKENS, it was always a summer thing. I always identified the Skywalker clan with sunny afternoons and air conditioned movie theaters in May and June. Suddenly, Luke was a Christmas present. Everything was different. So we just changed our way of looking at STAR WARS. And Christmas.
I know that means something.
I know it because it’s been a time of great changes, in both the world and in my life. Everything mutates. Everything evolves. Nothing lasts forever.
This will be the first year in my entire life with STAR WARS that there will not be a line party.
I wrote about “line culture” in my holiday blog two years ago, when THE FORCE AWAKENS came out. It’s something that’s always meant a great deal to me. For those who do not remember, I was speaking of the culture of lining up outside a theater to see a STAR WARS film, which I have done for every movie since the first one, when I was seven years old, and this new mythology spoke to me. Each time a new STAR WARS hit our world, we lined up. We camped out. It was crazy fun. My fondest memory from a line party is actually EPISODE TWO, when we took over the lobby of the Barton Creek theater, with beer and burgers and every single one of my fucking friends showed up to celebrate the Force. It was insane and beautiful.
This year, there will be no line party. This year, all of the theaters we like have defaulted to a computerized system that allows/forces you to chose your seats in advance. There is no need to wait in any line because you do that ONLINE now. Everything has become disposable. It will all be forgotten tomorrow. Another bittersweet thing is that this will also be the first time we have not attended the very first preview show. See, there are two showings that night. One at 7pm and one at 9:45pm. The one at 7pm is a form of highway robbery that makes me want to cry out loud. These jerks actually expect us to pay 30 dollars for the privilege of sitting in that theater first. You get some trading cards and a free regular popcorn, too. When Robert and I went to the ticket site three months ago and saw what they were demanding of their most loyal fans, we both had to shake our heads in awe and say FUCK THAT. It big capital letters. I mean… I would have paid the money. Maybe. It’s not even the money that matters at this point. It’s the transformation of something special into something cheap and meaningless. My love for STAR WARS is about family and friends and a deep connection with magic and eternity—it is not about some trading cards and a handful of popcorn. And in the end, it’s probably not about seeing the damn thnig first, or even waiting in a line, for that matter.
At any rate, we both, Robert and I, unanimously refused to allow Lucasfilm and Disney to profit off our love of STAR WARS in such a mean and obvious way. We got our advance tickets for the 9:45 showing and told the 30 dollar seats to fuck off.
This all makes me very sad, in many ways. More sad than I can adequately express in words. So I will simply say again… that I hope it means something in the end.
(It does, if you’ve really been paying attention, but more later.)
Thursday DEC. 14: STAR WARS DAY
My father—Rock to you and everyone else—arrives late in the afternoon, arms loaded with presents. Julie arrives at about 6 and we all sit around, giving each other things. Julie gets a bunch of Cthulu stuff from me because she’s been reading Lovecraft recently. Rock gives her some STAR TREK stuff. Julie is a STAR TREK superfan. It’s one of the religions we diverge on, but we both like all of it, of course. We are also both very critical of our masters. (She hated the TREK reboot film, for example.) But she’s a sexy nerd, so I kinda don’t mind when our nerd spirits go north and south. You could do a lot worse than spend your day arguing with such a hottie about who is better, Luke or Jean-Luc. (And we never really do that anyway, so cool!) We go to Asti for dinner before the movie. I’ve never taken Rock here before. That amazes me somehow. Yet I am not-so-secretly sad all night because on any other STAR WARS year, I’d be waiting in line right now to get a good seat at the theater with all my friends. There would be so much excitement. Tonight, it all feels like… well, dinner and a movie. Is that a good thing? These people I am having dinner with are, after all, my favorite people. And I will soon be with the rest of my favorite people. Doing my favorite thing. That’s still cool, right?
We all meet at the Barton Creek theater at 9. Robert is there with his old buddies Brad and Scotty and Steven. My excellent friend Dana and his wife Evelyn show up. Noah and Joanna. Scott and Jennifer.
And my pal Roger.
Roger is someone I’ve known for thirty years. He is also one of my closest connections to eternity. I made my first movie with Roger. I’ve recorded albums filled with music with Roger. I cannot imagine a world without Roger in it. He is a man of great sensitivity and few words. He is a great musician and a caring soul. When I nearly lost everything three years ago, we was at my side, as few others were.
Roger lost his father last week.
His father died.
I am more sad for him than anything else I could possibly be sad about tonight.
I am sharing Christmas with him and my father because that’s what friends do. I even bought his ticket to the show tonight, because that’s what Jedi do. My wish this evening is for Roger to find some peace in the coming years, as I desperately tried to when I lost my mom—when she died, suddenly and with no warning. I even wish it out loud when nobody is paying attention: I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight….
When it’s time for the movie, we are shuffled through the theater by ushers, very quickly. Everything has been re-designed since I was last here. Everything is automated, even the soda fountains. Everything seems strange and alien. The soft drink machines are those big Coca Cola abominations that dispense literally hundreds of flavor variations on your favorite liquid fizzy drink. One of us remarks on how that could even be possible—all that flavor in such a tiny little metal box—and I let him in on a secret. A pinhead of artificial flavoring is enough to make an entire swimming pool full of Kool Aid taste like cherries. I know these things, see? I’m a writer.
Everyone breaks from the soda machines on their own and hits the theater in little clusters. Rock and Julie and myself are the last to go. Inside the theater, it’s still twenty minutes to Showtime and they’ve already killed the lights and started the previews. I am weirdly disoriented, trying to ascend very steep stairs with a bum leg while looking at numbers on armrests in the dark. It’s complete chaos. They have the previews cranked up so loud I can’t hear anything anyone says to me. I find an area with my other friends and settle into something that is supposed to be my assigned seat, but I can’t really be sure. I sit between Rock and Julie and hope for the best. The rest of my amigos are in the row in front of me. I feel ripped-off somehow. I feel like this is not the way any of this was supposed to go. It’s all a real bummer and I even have a hard time settling into the movie because it it all.
It’s about two hours into the film before I finally get with it and start enjoying myself. The last 30 minutes really rock.
But after the film, I feel sucker-punched and weirded out. I decide I like the movie, but something about it made me feel really bad. Was it the branded UN-SPECIALNESS of the whole theatrical experience? Or was it the movie itself? I can’t figure it out. Rian Johnson’s last movie LOOPER had a similar effect on me, but it wasn’t “bad” I felt. I don’t think it was bad, anyway. I was exhilarated by that film. Wasn’t I? Yes, I was. It stayed with me for days and years after I watched it. That all said, I’m not going to get into a lot of talk about THE LAST JEDI and its characters or plot or whatever. That’s for other nerds at other blogs. I don’t want this to be a dissection of a film and it’s specific details. (But I should mention that if you haven’t seen the movie yet, you might want to stop reading now and save the rest for later. There’s a pretty big spoiler coming up.)
And yeah, I feel really bad. And I decide I really need to see THE LAST JEDI again before I find my footing about it—and it’s place in my world.
Robert loves it without reservation. Utterly. I wish I could be him right now. I really do.
In case you are wondering, Julie also has big problems with THE LAST JEDI. That’s my lady. Sexy nerdy cool.
Scott has some car trouble so he won’t be joining us for late night Christmas presents at my house. (Shame. I got him something really neat.) It’s just me and Roger and Rock. (Julie already got her presents and she has to work early.) We open our gifts under my twelve year old Wal Mart ghetto tree and hang well into the wee hours of morning. My present to Rock is something that I also hope is a connection to eternity.
See, back in 1975, Rock had a jazz band called Smokin Fitz, and I was a five year old kid who was really big into robots. So I drew him a picture called THE SMKIN ROBOT. It was a robot who smoked. (And yeah, I had no excuse for not knowing how to spell the word SMOKIN’ at the time.) Later, Rock and I had an art show when I was eight years old. It was called THE FLYING ROMANOS. We both hung our work in a gallery and sold it to the highest bidder. This was a time of great melancholy in my little world, when Rock and I were separated for long periods of time, as my mother raised me in a different State. He came from Houston, to where I lived with mom in the strange little hippie infested college town of Fayetteville, Arkansas, and we did a father-son art show. The air was cold then. My heart was heavy with thoughts of the here-and-now, and what the future might bring. I missed my father painfully, even when he was around, because I always knew he would soon be gone. This was part of the struggle of just being me at the time. It was the pain of real adult heartbreak living in an eight year old child. I tried however I could to conquer that, by finding magic wherever it could be found. Our art show may have been the most profound expression of that in the real world. I can still remember the night we hung all those pictures in the gallery. It was the first time in my life I’d stayed up until past four in the morning to do anything. And it felt like anything was possible. Because I was going somewhere I’d never gone before. But I also felt like a boy besieged. A boy at war.
Anyway, THE SMKIN ROBOT ended up being the first piece of art I ever sold to anyone. It wasn’t a particularly good piece of art—but if you looked at it from a certain point of view, it had an interesting, surreal thing going on. (Stop giggling, nerds, nobody else got that but you.) The painting sold to Bonnie Brown, the keyboardist in Smokin Fitz. She kept it on her wall for years. Then somehow it came back to Rock. He’s had it on his wall for twenty years. Earlier this year I was looking at the thing, all framed up and persevered in his home, an example of old magic… and I was deeply moved. I wondered if it was ever possible to get that old magic back.
So I made him a new SMKIN ROBOT for Christmas.
I did it like I do art now—using digital paint tools. But I tried hard to keep the spirit alive. That childish abandon and less-than-stellar line work. The important thing, I thought, was not to try and do the old thing over. The important thing was to preserve the spirit. Then we can print it out and have it matted and framed and we can wrap it up as a gift. We can then give that gift, and in the giving we can become new people.
I think if we honor our childhood and find the essence of it, rather than try to do it over, that may be the key to facing the future. Of course, that’s also that’s another way of destroying our past. To make way for the new. In a world where everything is forgotten a day later, this may be the only way to survive. We just have to honor our childhood as we evolve. Is that possible? I think it is. I think we can live in that world.
I think we can.
When I try to sleep that night, I am kept awake by terrible voices that tell me I am a fraud and a failure. I am haunted by the death of Roger’s dad. I have panic attacks that cripple me with fear. Is this the price we must pay for moving forward? Does everyone feel this way? I decide they do… but, man, this sucks.
Finally the feelings of horror fade, and I find sleep. I do not dream. I feel like a man besieged. A man at war.
Friday Dec. 15 and Saturday Dec 16
We do a mellow Christmas Day. Late that night, Scott comes by after work and visits some. I give him the cool present I got him—it’s a framed promo ad matte for one of his favorite films, THE GREEN SLIME. We open a gift I got for all of us, which is a big box of old movie posters, more than a hundred of them. I give a bunch of really cool ones to Scott, like FADE TO BLACK, which champions a horror film starring Denis Christopher, an actor who’s always reminded me of a weirder, sleazier Luke Skywalker. I put aside a killer one sheet for THE BLACK CAULDRON so Robert can have it. There’s two killer FRIDAY THE 13th posters in here that I wanna give to Joe, but I think he already has them. (If you’re a Constant Reader at The Express, you know what a superfan of Jason Voorhees old Joe is.) I keep a few choice titles and put them in the poster cases above my TV. They are WICKED, WICKED, THAT DARN CAT, MISTER HERCULES AGAINST KARATE and a Raquel Welch movie I’ve never heard of called RESTLESS. It’s directed by the man who made RAMBO and TOMBSTONE. It has an image of Raquel in a nightie, holding a bloody wood axe. Wow.
Neat, huh? Christmas with nerds.
Rock heads back to Houston on Saturday. I go online and get tickets for LAST JEDI tomorrow. I realize how old I am and how old my father is. In just another ten years or so, he may be gone. I hope I am ready when that happens. I love him so very much. Scott lost both his mother and father a couple of years ago. I spoke at his mother’s funeral. We are all bonded by that, so many of my friends. Bonded by the mortality of our parents and the fragility of the world we live in.
I text with my friend Joe about the STAR WARS movie. He’s also on the fence. We feel that somehow we are being challenged. We find the movie difficult. Joe lost his father also. He doesn’t want to live in a world without Luke Skywalker. We all live in that very special place.
Sunday Dec 17
I’m on pins and needles all day until my second viewing of THE LAST JEDI. It’s under more optimal circumstances. It’s at an IMAX theater inside a gigantic Austin museum—so they are not part of any theater chain and not on the grid of advance seating reservations. (Damn, we should have come to this goddamn place for the line party, man! DOH!) Also, it’s the biggest goddam IMAX screen in Texas—the size of a small office building. I saw DUNKIRK here earlier in the year—twice. It blew me away both times. THE LAST JEDI is a grand spectacle experience here. It’s big and loud and I’m way into it from frame one.
I’m left deeply, spiritually moved and utterly drained when it is over. I don’t think I feel bad, really. I just feel…. changed.
First those of you who don’t know by now, THE LAST JEDI is a film about change. It’s a film about the old giving purchase to the new. It is about devastating defeat and a small flicker of hope that lingers in the cold aftermath. It’s about the choices we make that haunt us all our lives. It’s about letting go of our old heroes. That’s tough stuff, man. Difficult and dangerous stuff. As I write this, there are “fans” petitioning to have it removed from the canon. (Um, what, guys?) I have read learned articles from dedicated followers of STAR WARS who were just 4 years old when first exposed to the mythology—guys who make passionate, convincing arguments for the existence of this film and its underlying message—and yet even those guys are quick to admit, like I am, that the movie puts us in a terribly uneasy place, upon exiting the theater, because it makes us confront very stark and inescapable things. With hindsight, I think seeing this movie is a bit like coming down from an acid trip. And for those of you who don’t know by now, coming down from acid is one of the biggest cosmic rip-offs you can possibly live through. It’s like saying “Oh, this again.” And by THIS, I mean the real world. It ain’t as cool as you remember it. At all. It was a lot more fun to live in that weirdly uneasy, spiritually enlightened place, if only for a few bizarre and wonderful hours.
And the real world, by definition, is totally different now.
We can no longer hold on to old things, not the way we used to.
We must let go.
We must change.
That’s so very sad… but it’s also kind of amazing.
And this is, finally, the point of this entire rambling. It’s the message I’ve been searching for since that truck ran me over. Since my mother died. It is the message Roger will search for all his life, now that his father is dead.
It is what we all must search for and find, now that Luke Skywalker is gone.
The trick is to remember, as I said at my mother funeral—quoting STAR TREK, no less—is that these people, these memories, these feelings, these ideals… they are never really gone at all. As long as we remember them.
They live forever. They really do. There is a light in the universe that shines. We just have to keep our eye on it. And remember who we are.
Because that light is us. It was all along.
It’s Friday Dec. 22 as I write this. Lifetime is kicking my ass again. I have to deliver a new outline on Number Four in a few days. A long meeting with the executive producer earlier this week has left me tired and drained and searching. But I feel like I can handle it. I am not afraid. This is what I do. I was a young man before I was this man. In my infinite wisdom, I even took an entire day off to write all this down, because it was very important to do so. This is the religion of my life.
I am filled with boyish love for old heroes.
Next week I will open more presents. I will see THE LAST JEDI again. I will post this blog on Christmas day. I will kiss my lady and tell her I love her. I will call my father and tell him he is my Jedi Master. The day before New year’s Eve, WEB CAM GIRLS will premiere on Lifetime, the silly YA thriller I’m actually really happy with. (And hey, Klyza… since I know you’re reading this, look for your name in that one—you’re part of the gang too, you know.) Everything will change. Again.
And as I look out over the battlements of all we have loved and lost in the changing world, the disposable future we rise into… I am actually filled with joy. Because my new buddy, ace artist Pat Carbajal, who has never uttered an unkind word to anyone in the four-and-a-half years I have known him… well, he Tweeted this:
“2017 is almost over and it’s been a great year for many reasons, one of them is that MANIAC the comic book issue 1 came out.”
Pat really loved drawing that book. It made him super happy. It’s funny, because making that book made me feel really bad. Like I was doing something wrong. But it wasn’t wrong. It was just different. And, you know what? Pat is right. 2017 was a great year. Pat made it great. And so did all my friends. Rob and Joe and Lisa and Teighlor and Elly and Scott and Dana. Joe’s awesome kids and his amazing niece and Rob’s brand new daughter. Rob’s incredible wife Nitra, who survived brain surgery last year. My great friend Roger, who will defeat the specter of death one day. My father Rock. Julie, my love. And Luke Skywalker.
Who will never leave us.
As we watch our children become Jedi.
As we grow into our final, best, most flawed selves.
As we fight and love, forever.
December 22, 2017